The Marquis de Sade’s status as an icon of free and subversive expression was largely bestowed on him in the twentieth century. Then, his appeal went beyond the orgiastic tableaux he crafted in his libertine novels and a broader sense of his ‘philosophy of the boudoir’ was seized as a radical voice for the avant-garde’s engagement with sexual desire and social politics. This talk will consider why Surrealist artists such as Man Ray, André Masson, Hans Bellmer, Toyen and Leonor Fini claimed the Marquis de Sade as “a hero of love, of generosity and of liberty”, and how they brought the Sadean imagination into play in their art.

Speaker: Alyce Mahon is a Professor of Modern & Contemporary Art History at the University of Cambridge, England. She is the author of Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, 1938-1968 (Thames & Hudson, 2005), Eroticism & Art (Oxford University Press, 2005 and 2007) and The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde (Princeton University Press, 2020), as well as numerous journal, book and catalogue essays on Surrealism and its dialogue with eroticism and gender politics. She also works with major museums on Surrealist exhibitions and was the guest curator of Dorothea Tanning, Behind the Door Another Door, the first major retrospective exhibition of the American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning (1901-2012), for the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (Oct. 3, 2018 –Jan. 7, 2019) and the Tate Modern, London (Feb. 27–June 6, 2019), and the head advisor for the first survey show of Argentine-Italian Surrealist Leonor Fini (1907-1996) in the United States, titled Leonor Fini: Theatre of Desire 1930-1990 and on show at the Museum of Sex, New York (Sept. 28, 2018-March 4, 2019). Her talk will focus on her new book on the Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde and her longstanding interests in the dynamics between art, sex, and politics.